Editor’s note: The FPIC (Free, prior and informed consent) and UNDRIP (UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) are international standards, that some companies have adopted into their policies. The FPIC is an international human rights principle that protect peoples’ rights to self-determination. UNDRIP delineates and defines the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples. Both of these are important principles that improve the sovereignty of indigenous peoples. However, neither of these are legally binding, which has disastrous outcomes.
Companies and countries alike are bypassing these principles in favor of profitable ventures, most recent of which are clean energy projects.
Right now, companies that advance the “clean” energy transition are threatening the land and the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and peasants. Demand for minerals like copper and lithium is skyrocketing, as every economic sector is being transitioned towards the fourth industrial revolution. But indigenous peoples need to have their right to a say in decisions affecting to their land. Ecosystems and people living with the land are being victimized to serve an economy that is desperately trying to save itself from collapsing.
When Francisco Calí Tzay, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, spoke at the 22nd United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, or UNPFII, last week, he listed clean energy projects as some of the most concerning threats to their rights.
“I constantly receive information that Indigenous Peoples fear a new wave of green investments without recognition of their land tenure, management, and knowledge,” said Calí Tzay.
His statements — and those made by other delegates — at what is the world’s largest gathering of Indigenous peoples, made clear that without the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous people, these “green” projects have the capacity to seriously impede on Indigenous rights.
Free, prior and informed consent — known as FPIC — has always been an important topic at the UNPFII, but this year it’s taken on a renewed urgency.
Mining projects and carbon offsets put pressure on indigenous groups
“The strong push is because more and more of climate action and targets for sustainable development are impacting us,” said Joan Carling, executive director of Indigenous Peoples Rights International, an Indigenous nonprofit that works to protect Indigenous peoples’ rights worldwide.
Indigenous peoples around the world are experiencing the compounding pressures of clean energy mining projects, carbon offsets, new protected areas and large infrastructure projects on their lands as part of economic recovery efforts in the wake of Covid-19, according to The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs 2023 report.
Green colonialism threatens ecosystems
As states around the world trend towards transitioning to “clean” energy to meet their national and international climate goals, the demand for minerals like lithium, copper, and nickel needed for batteries that power the energy revolution are projected to skyrocket. The demand could swell fourfold by 2040, and by conservative estimates could pull in $1.7 trillion in mining investments.
Although Indigenous delegates say they support “clean” energy projects, one of the issues is their land rights: more than half of the projects extracting these minerals currently are on or near lands where Indigenous peoples or peasants live, according to an analysis published in Nature.
This can lead to their eviction from territories, loss of livelihoods, or the deforestation and degradation of surrounding ecosystems.
“And yet […] we are not part of the discussion,” said Carling. “That’s why I call it green colonialism — the [energy] transition without the respect of Indigenous rights is another form of colonialism.”
Companies and governments don’t abide by communities
Because of this, delegates are calling on countries and companies to create binding policy and guidelines that require FPIC for all projects that affect Indigenous peoples and their lands, as well as financial, territorial and material remedies for when companies and countries fail to do so.
However, there is some push back. The free prior, informed consent process can lead to a wide variety of outcomes including the right for communities to decline a highly profitable project, which can often be difficult for countries, companies and investors to abide by, explains Mary Beth Gallagher, the director of engagement of investment at Domini Impact Investments, who spoke at a side event on shareholder advocacy.
Indigenous Sámi delegates from Norway drew attention to their need for legally enforceable FPIC protection as they continue to protest the Fosen Vind Project, an onshore wind energy complex on Sámi territory, that the country’s Supreme Court ruled violated their rights.
“We have come to learn the hard way that sustainability doesn’t end colonialism,” said a Sámi delegate during the main panel on Tuesday.
Across the globe indigenous peoples face eviction
In the United States, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, the People of Red Mountain and members of the Fort McDermitt Tribe filed lawsuits against the federal Bureau of Land Management for approving the permits for an open-pit lithium mine without proper consultation with the tribes. In the Colombian Amazon, the Inga Indigenous community presented a successful appeal for lack of prior consultation from a Canadian company that plans to mine copper, molybdenum and other metals in their highly biodiverse territory.
While delegates put a lot of emphasis on the lack of FPIC, they put equal emphasis on FPIC as a crucial part of the long-term sustainability of energy projects.
“FPIC is more than just a checklist for companies looking to develop projects on Indigenous lands,” said Carling. “It is a framework for partnership, including options for equitable benefit sharing agreements or memorandum of understanding, collaboration or conservation.”
The focus at this year’s conference has emphasized the growing role of FPIC in the private sector. Investors and developers are increasingly considering the inclusion of FPIC into their human rights due diligence standards. Select countries such as Canada have implemented UNDRIP in full, although First Nation groups have pointed out irregularities in how it is being implemented. The European Union is proposing including specific mandatory rights to FPIC in its corporate sustainability due diligence regulation. Side events at the UNPFII focused on topics like transmitting FPIC Priorities to the private sector and using shareholder advocacy to increase awareness of FPIC.
Gallagher of Domini Impact Investments said companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, which includes FPIC: “If they have a human rights commitment or they have a commitment in their policies not to do land grabs, we have to hold them to account for that.”
Indigenous leadership at the center of negotiations
In 2021, the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, published an expectation that companies “obtain (and maintain) the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples for business decisions that affect their rights.” Large banks like Credit Agricole have included FPIC in their corporate social responsibility policy. But in most cases, even when companies have a FPIC policy it doesn’t conform to the standard outlined in UNDRIP and is not legally binding.
“It doesn’t do the work it’s supposed to do to protect self-determination,” said Kate Finn, director at First Peoples Worldwide. “It becomes a check-the-box procedure that’s solely consultations and stakeholder consultation instead of protection of rights and self-determination.”
“If communities aren’t giving their consent, a company has to respect that,” said Gallagher, who added “There’s obviously points of tension where investors have different agendas and priorities but ultimately, it’s about centering Indigenous leadership and working through that.”
Not properly abiding by FPIC can be costly to companies in countries that operate where it is a legal instrument. It comes with risks of losing their social operation to license, and financial damages. According to a study by First Peoples Worldwide, Energy Transfer and the banks that financed the now-completed Dakota Access Pipeline, lost billions due to construction delays, account closures, and contract losses after they failed to obtain consent from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the United States.
Ultimately, Indigenous people need to be part of decision-making from the beginning of any project, especially “clean” energy projects mining for transition minerals on their territories, said Carling. “For us, land is life, and we have a right to decide over what happens on our land.”
Banner by Carolina Caycedo. Lithium Intensive, 2022. Color pencil on paper. Courtesy of the artist.
Editor’s Note: As a continent with abundant “resources”, Africa has been a target of colonial powers, who have plundered her land for centuries. This is not merely ecocide, but a violation of indigenous and human rights as well. Colonizers have destroyed Africa and continue to do so under newer guises, all in the name of, they say, advancing the lives of African people. People whose advanced cultures were destroyed along with their land. While DGR believes in community control over decisions related to energy, we not believe that renewable energy is the key to the ecological problems we are facing.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute. This article is an edited version of a speech the author delivered at Health of Mother Earth Foundation’s 10th Anniversary Conference with the theme ‘Advancing Environmental Justice in Africa’ held in June 2023 in Abuja, Nigeria.
The struggle for environmental justice in Africa is complex and broad. It is the continuation of the fight for the liberation of the continent and for socio-ecological transformation. It is a fact that the environment is our life: The soil, rivers, and air are not inanimate or lifeless entities. We are rooted and anchored in our environment. Our roots are sunk into our environment and that is where our nourishment comes from. We do not see the Earth and her bountiful gifts as items that must be exploited, transformed, consumed, or wasted. The understanding of the Earth as a living entity and not a dead thing warns that rapacious exploitation that disrupts her regenerative powers are acts of cruelty or ecocide.
We bear in mind that colonialism was erected on the right to subjugate, erase, or diminish the right to life and the right to the unfettered cultural expression of the colonized. In particular, the colonized were dehumanized and transformed into zombies working for the benefit of the colonial powers. Ecological pillage was permitted as long as it benefited the colonizers. This ethos has persisted and manifests in diverse forms. Grand theft by the colonial forces was seen as entrepreneurship. Genocide was overlooked as mere conquest. Slavery was seen as commerce. Extractivism was to be pursued relentlessly as any element left unexploited was considered a waste. What could be wasted with no compunction was life. So most things had to die. The civilizers were purveyors of death. Death of individuals. Death of ecosystems.
Thus, today, people still ask: What would we do with the crude oil or fossil gas in our soil if we do not exploit them? In other words, how could we end poverty if we do not destroy our environment and grab all it could be forced to yield? We tolerate deforestation, and unregulated industrial fishing, and run a biosafety regulation system that promotes the introduction of needless genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and by doing so, endanger our biodiversity and compromise our environment and food systems.
Plunder is presented as inescapable and desired under the cloak of foreign investment. Political leaders in despoiled regions offer ease of doing business, tax holidays, sundry lax rules, and other neocolonial governance policies.
The reign of exploitation and consumption without responsibility has driven Africa and indeed the world to the brink. The current civilization of death seeks ready investment in destruction through warfare and extractivism rather than in building resilience and adapting to the environmental changes that result from corporate and imperial misadventures.
We are in a reign in which condescension is the hallmark of multilateralism. The collective action needed to tackle global warming has been reduced to puny “nationally determined contributions” that add up to nothing. Rather than recognizing and paying a clear climate debt, we expend energy negotiating a loss and damage regime to be packaged as a humanitarian gesture. Pray, who negotiates what is offered as charity?
Today, Africa is facing multiple ecological challenges. All of these have resulted from the actions of entities that have seen the continent as a sacrificial zone. While the world has come to the conclusion that there must be an urgent shift from dependence on fossil fuels, we are seeing massive investments for the extraction of petroleum resources on the continent. And we must say that this investment comes with related infrastructure for the export of these resources out of the continent in a crass colonial pattern. A mere 1 percent of the labor force in the extractive sector in Africa are Africans. A mere 5 percent of investment in the sector is in Africa. More than 85 percent of the continent’s fossil gas infrastructure is for export purposes.
The shift to renewable energy brings the same old challenges to Africa. Extraction of critical minerals for renewable energy is done without prior consultation with and consent of our people. The continent’s environment is being degraded just as it has been with the extraction of oil, gas, gold, diamond, nickel, cobalt, and other solid minerals. The array of solar panels and wind turbines could well become markers of crime scenes if precautionary measures are not taken now.
Are we against renewable energy? No. They provide the best pathway toward ending the energy deficit on the continent. However, this should be pursued through discrete, autonomous, and socialized ownership schemes.
While the world knows that we must rebuild our biodiversity, what we see is the push towards more deforestation in Africa and for monoculture agriculture, all of which are against our best interest and that of the world. A sore issue, land grabbing has not disappeared with the coming innovations.
As Chinua Achebe writes in his classic 1958 book Things Fall Apart about Eneke the bird, “Since men have learned to shoot without missing, he has learned to fly without perching.” For us, until the despoilers of our environment halt their destructive acts, we will intensify our resistance and never give in to their designs. We believe this conference will not only break the yoke of colonialism but will also puncture the hold of coloniality. Our book, Politics of Turbulent Waters, is one of the tools toward these ends.
Every African nation should:
Commit to issuing an annual State of Environment Report to lay out the situation of things in their territories.
End destructive extraction no matter the appeal of capital.
Demand climate debt for centuries of ecological exploitation and harm.
Require remediation, restoration of all degraded territories, and pay reparations to direct victims or their heirs.
Support and promote food sovereignty including by adopting agroecology.
Adopt and promote African cultural tools and philosophies for the holistic tackling of ecological challenges and for the healing and well-being of our people and communities.
Promote and provide renewable energy in a democratized manner.
Recognize our right to water, treat it as a public good, and halt and reverse its privatization.
Recognize the rights of Mother Earth and codify Ecocide as a crime akin to genocide, war crimes, and other unusual crimes.
Ensure that all Africans enjoy the right to live in a safe and satisfactory environment suitable for their progress as enshrined in the African Charter on Peoples and Human Rights.
Editor’s Note: The Indigenous Women of Peehee Mu’huh have set up an Indigenous Women’s Camp (Ox Sam Newe Momokonee Nokutun) blocking the construction of a water pipeline for Lithium Nevada’s open-pit lithium mine. The land is a historic site, and has witnessed two massacres of indigenous people. The following text was written by Paul Cienfuegos, Founding Director, Community Rights US. We share it here to update you on the latest happenings at Thacker Pass. This piece is also a call for action for all to share the word and help the movement in any way that they can. More information can be found at the Indigenous Women’s Camp website oxsam.org. Thank you for reading.
Last Thursday, May 11th, the next nationally significant Standing-Rock-like prayer and action camp at Thacker Pass, Nevada (Pee’hee Mu’huh in the Paiute language meaning “rotten moon” named for the massacre of Paiute ancestors in 1865) was launched to try to stop the construction of what would become the largest open pit lithium mine in the world, as a false and ecologically devastating “green energy solution” to our fossil fuel woes.
I am proud to have played a small role in this just launched camp which only days ago was given a proper name by the Paiute Shoshone women elders who are in charge: Ox Sam Newe Momokonee Nokutum. Ox Sam was one of only a few surviving members of the 1865 massacre of dozens of Native people at Thacker Pass. And Newe Momokonee Nokutum translates as Indigenous Women’s Camp and is open to ALL — Native and non-Native, women and men. (Here’s a pronunciation guide for speaking that beautiful name: New’-weh Moe-moe-koht’-nee Noh-kuh’-duhn.)
Here’s a 1-minute video intro to this issue:
We simply cannot dig our way out of our climate emergency. And if you don’t believe me, I urge you to read Bright Green Lies by Derrick Jensen, full of the hard data we all need to stop lying to ourselves about an electric battery future nirvana. A real solution is a rapid transition first to a steady state or zero-growth economy (which is frankly impossible under capitalism which requires constant growth) followed rapidly by carefully planned, massive and rapid economic shrinkage. There really is no other option if we truly want to see the survival of diverse species thriving on Mother Earth.
And when We the People continue to allow large business corporations to exercise their so-called Constitutional “rights” — of property, of free speech, access to the courts, etc, which were never approved by the public in our nation’s history — our options are limited when We try to stop these outrages against land, water, and people. Because corporations really do have more constitutionally protected “rights” than We do. So we need to tackle this crisis on many fronts. (If you want to learn more about this aspect of the crisis our society is facing, check out my new book.)
If we can stop the Thacker Pass lithium mine this year, then we have a fighting chance to stop the other (dozens?) of planned lithium mines all across the Americas.
For the first few days of the new camp, I played a highly significant support role on site: as the Liaison between those drivers trying to reach the mining operation (workers, mine deliveries, and occasionally just members of the public driving up this rural county road) and the grandmothers who are in charge there. I didn’t hold a leadership position. I didn’t speak for the camp. I simply moved information back and forth between the drivers and the grandmothers, who decide who gets to pass and who does not.
Here’s what my role as Liaison actually looked like on the entrance road in these minute-long videos. This man is one of the mine security supervisors…
It has been a scary and intimidating but also incredibly moving and powerful experience for me, and we’ve already stopped dozens of vehicles with our banner held high by camp participants standing across the roadway, and always with a local Native elder in prayer sitting in front of the banner.
Meet three extraordinary leaders of the camp in this 23-minute video:
The sheriff’s office has been in constant communication for days with Lithium Nevada Corporation managers (behind the scenes) as they’ve been going out of their way to not arrest any of us, even though we are creating quite the hassle for their daily operations. What they want, more than anything, is to make this look like it’s led by a handful of white out-of-state eco-freaks so they can mock the camp in their news releases. But the reality is that the camp is 90% Native people, mostly local, and THEY are its leaders.
On Friday evening, we found out that Max Wilbert (co-founder of Protect Thacker Pass) and myself were the only named people in a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), which the company has put before a judge this weekend, and once it’s approved, they will try to serve Max and myself. I came prepared to risk arrest, so all is well.
Please be advised that Lithium Nevada is filing an Application for Temporary Order for Protection Against Harassment in the Workplace against Max Wilbert and Paul Cienfuegos later this afternoon, in the Justice Court in the Township of Union Humboldt County, Nevada.
All of this in furtherance of the company’s desperate attempt to attach white leadership to the story of this camp, when in reality neither of us has stood in the way of any employee or company vehicle.
The camp currently stands right on top of the company’s ongoing water line construction. One Tipi is now in place, and more on the way. More tents are arriving daily on the company’s BLM-leased land. Or more accurately, on land “beyond the treaty frontier”, as the US government has no treaties in place. The only claim is conquest by which this land was taken from the local Paiute Shoshone communities. So they have more right to be on this land than any other persons or corporations.
Trucks halted at Ox Sam Indigenous Women’s Camp. Photo by Bhie-Cie Zahn-Nahtzu
Which is where YOU come in! And when I say you, I mean YOU, the person reading these words right now!
Please share this information with your own social networks in the next 48 hours.
Standing Rock started when local Native people took a stand against a pipeline. Other Native peoples came to support them. Then the non-Native environmental and social justice movements took notice and started showing up en masse. Major media coverage followed from there. And a historic Native-led mass encampment was born, which shook the consciousness of the nation. We can do this too — here at Thacker Pass, Nevada.
We need all hands on deck NOW. This week. We need bodies. We need supplies. We need media support. We need funds. The small group holding this camp simply cannot sustain itself unless YOU and people YOU know are willing to do SOMETHING to support us THIS WEEK.
I thank all of you reading this, from the bottom of my heart. This is NOT just another single-issue campaign. The success or failure of this effort could have historic impact on the future survival of the extraordinary diversity of creatures here on this beautiful and mysterious orb we call home, floating in the endless blackness of space.
🌎 Join the land defense: Come to Thacker Pass / Peehee Mu’huh and stand with native elders and supporter to protect the land.
🌎 Be Eagle Eyes! Camp at Sentinel Rock, traditional lookout for the Thacker Pass area to keep an eye on the mining construction that is happening up at Thacker Pass. Send us photos and reports via our website.
🌎 Get trained! We need people trained in nonviolent discipline and principles to help educate people for permanent camp.
🌎 Keep the Pressure On! Write op-eds, organize your own protest, make art, write poetry, and get the word out about Peehee Mu’huh / Thacker Pass.
🌎 Share! Share Protect Thacker Pass on social media and with friends.
🌎 Donate! Our legal work to Protect Thacker Pass is intensifying and increasing in cost; please donate if you can. We spend every donated dollar on this 2.5 year fight to Protect Thacker Pass.
Thank you Thacker Pass Warriors! We need you all and so appreciate all you have done to help us.
Editor’s note: The Thacker Pass lithium mine project reflects more than one injustices in the world: greenwashing mines, denying U.S. atrocities against indigenous tribes, grabbing indigenous land against their will, ecocide. This article highlights some of these injustices.
A coalition of conservation groups on Tuesday joined Native American tribes in launching legal challenges to a proposed lithium mine in northern Nevada that critics say was “illegally approved” and will “irreparably damage” the delicate desert ecosystem and land where Indigenous peoples are seeking federal historical recognition of a genocidal massacre perpetrated by U.S. colonizers.
Members of the Western Watersheds Project filed an emergency motion in federal court Tuesday seeking an injunction against the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine in Humboldt County pending action by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to ensure the project—which would tap into the largest known source of lithium in the United States and was approved during the final days of the Trump administration—complies with federal law.
“This mine should not be allowed to destroy public land unless and until the 9th Circuit has determined whether it was legally approved,” Western Watersheds Project staff attorney Talasi Brooks said in a statement announcing the filing.
“There’s no evidence that Lithium Nevada will be able to establish valid mining claims to lands it plans to bury in waste rock and tailings, but the damage will be done regardless,” Brooks added, referring to the subsidiary of Canada-based Lithium Americas that is seeking to build the mine. Lithium is a key component of electric vehicle batteries, cellphones, and laptops.
The emergency motion follows a lawsuit filed last week by the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Burns Paiute Tribe, and Summit Lake Paiute Tribe in response to U.S. District Judge Miranda Du’s earlier ruling that largely favored Lithium Americas and rejected opponents’ claims that the project would cause “unnecessary and undue degradation” to the environment and wildlife.
Opponents, including the Reno Sparks Indian Colony, promise to continue fight to stop the mine.https://t.co/dLMIGM4puo
“When the decision was made public on the previous lawsuit last week, we said we would continue to advocate for our sacred site PeeHee Mu’Huh. A place where prior to colonization, all our Paiute and Shoshone ancestors lived for countless generations,” Arlan Melendez, chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, said in a statement.
“It’s a place where all Paiute and Shoshone people continue to pray, gather medicines and food, honor our nonhuman relatives, honor our water, honor our way of life, honor our ancestors,” Melendez added.
All three tribes call Thacker Pass PeeHee Mu’Huh, which means “rotten moon”—a name given to honor the dozens and perhaps scores of Northern Paiute men, women, and children who were massacred by Nevada Cavalry on September 12, 1865.
Daylight was just breaking when we came in sight of the Indian camp. All were asleep. We unslung our carbines, loosened our six-shooters, and started into that camp of savages at a gallop, shooting through their wickiups as we came. In a second, sleepy-eyed squaws and bucks and little children were darting about, dazed with the sudden onslaught, but they were shot before they came to their waking senses…
We dismounted to make a closer examination. In one wickiup we found two little papooses still alive. One soldier said, “Make a cleanup. Nits make lice.”
The three tribes assert that all of Thacker Pass should be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Nevada tribes are seeking to add Thacker Pass, a culturally-important area slated for a lithium mine, to the National Register of Historic Places. https://t.co/roF71AYC86
“While Americans tend to focus on only the proud moments of American history, the shameful history of genocide perpetrated by the American government against Native Americas is nevertheless a broad pattern running throughout American history,” Michon Eben, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony’s cultural resource manager, wrote in a 2022 letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Eben added that the tribe “considers the destruction of its traditional cultural properties for another mine another act of genocide in the broad pattern running throughout American history.”
Indigenous advocates argue that victims of the 1865 massacre were never properly buried, that human remains and artifacts are still being discovered in Thacker Pass, and that federal authorities failed to properly consult tribes on the mine project in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act.
“Part of the federal government’s responsibility is to determine if a proposed mining project may adversely affect historic properties. Historic properties include Native American massacre sites,” Eben toldNevada Current. “The BLM failed in its trust responsibility to tribes and now our ancestors’ final resting place is currently being destroyed at PeeHee Mu’huh.”
“The BLM failed in its trust responsibility to tribes and now our ancestors’ final resting place is currently being destroyed.”
Will Falk, attorney for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and co-founder of Protect Thacker Pass—which set up a protest camp on the site of the proposed mine—accused BLM officials of lying about the massacre site being located outside the project area.
“The Biden administration and [Interior] Secretary Deb Haaland keep paying lip service to tribal rights and respect for Native Americans,” Falk toldLast Real Indians last year. “Well, now three federally recognized tribes are saying that BLM Winnemucca did not respect tribal rights. It’s time that BLM halts this project so the tribes can be heard.”
Tim Crowley, vice president of government affairs and community relations for Lithium Nevada, argued in a statement that “since we began this project more than a decade ago, we have been committed to doing things right,” and that Du’s ruling “definitively supported the BLM’s consultation process, and we are confident the ruling will be upheld.”
While global demand for lithium is surging, extraction of the metal can have devastating consequences, including destruction of lands and ecosystems and water contamination.
“Global warming is a serious problem and we cannot continue burning fossil fuels, but destroying mountains for lithium is just as bad as destroying mountains for coal,” contends Max Wilbert of Protect Thacker Pass. “You can’t blow up a mountain and call it green.”
Please donate to support the case and fund legal costs!
Tribal Chairman: “It’s Our Responsibility to Protect Sacred Sites”
RENO, NV — The Thacker Pass Lithium Mine in northern Nevada is headed back to Federal Court on January 5th as the lawsuits against the project near completion, but project opponents are raising the alarm that Lithium Nevada Corporation has already begun work on the proposed mine.
Lithium Nevada’s workers at Thacker Pass have begun digging test pits, bore holes, dumping gravel, building fencing, and installing security cameras where Native Americans often conduct ceremonies. Lithium Nevada also conducted “bulk sampling” earlier this year, and may be planning to dig dozens of new test pits across Thacker Pass. They’re claiming this work is legal under previous permits issued over a decade ago. But Tribes and mine opponents, including the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and Summit Lake Paiute Tribe, disagree.
They point to language in the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine that says “authorization of [the mine] will terminate the [earlier permits].” The Federal permit for Thacker Pass was approved on January 15th, 2021.
Will Falk, attorney for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, explains: “Lithium Nevada told the government and the American public that it would terminate the older permits upon BLM’s approval of the Thacker Pass Project. Now they are going back on their word, it appears they are lying to get a headstart on building the Thacker Pass mine, and the BLM is allowing them to get away with it.”
Thacker Pass, known as Peehee Mu’huh in Paiute, is a sacred site to regional tribes whose ancestors lived in the area for thousands of years, and were massacred there on at least two occasions.
Michon Eben, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer at Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, says the site is incredibly important to Native American history. “Peehee Mu’huh is a sacred place where our ancestors lived and died. We still go there to pray, gather food and medicine, hunt, and teach our youth about the history of our people.” Eben and the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony are currently hosting an exhibit on the impacts of mining on Native people of Nevada.
Tribal members have stated in court filings that, because of the history of battles and massacres on the site, Thacker Pass is as significant to their culture as a site like Pearl Harbor is to American history. Arlan Melendez, Chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, understands the importance of battle and massacre sites as both a Native American and as a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.
“As tribal leaders, it’s our responsibility to protect and honor our sacred places,” says Melendez. “Throughout US history, tribes have always been set up to lose in the US legal system against BLM. This Lithium Mine stands in the way of our roots and it’s violating the religious freedoms of our elders, our people.”
Falk, the Tribal attorney, says that Lithium Nevada’s construction activities at Thacker Pass are also violating tribal consultation rights.
“The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and Summit Lake Paiute Tribe are still engaged in consultation with the BLM about the September 12, 1865 massacre site, a site that will be completely destroyed by Lithium Nevada’s mine if this project is built,” Falk says. “It’s hard to believe a government agency is consulting in good faith when they are already allowing the site to be harmed.”
Shelley Harjo, a tribal member from the Fort McDermitt Shoshone Paiute Tribe and an employee of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, has called the planned destruction of Thacker Pass “the biggest desecration and rape of a known Native American massacre site in our area.”
The upcoming January 5th hearing in Reno’s Federal Courthouse will be the final oral argument in the ongoing lawsuits against the Thacker Pass mine. Mine opponents are planning a march and rally outside. Plaintiffs, including the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Burns Paiute Tribe, four environmental organizations, and local rancher Edward Bartell, have alleged numerous violations of the law, and Judge Miranda Du is expected to issue her opinion in the case within days or weeks of the January 5th hearing.
“No matter what happens in court on January 5th, Thacker Pass is being destroyed right now and that threat will be ongoing,” says Max Wilbert, co-founder of Protect Thacker Pass. “We have to stop that.”
Lithium Nevada claims that its lithium mine will be essential to producing batteries for combating global warming, and the Biden administration has previously indicated some support for Thacker Pass. Opponents of the project have called this “greenwashing,” arguing that the project would harm important wildlife habitat and create significant pollution. They say that electric cars are still harmful to the planet.
January 15, 2021 — Due to “fast-tracked” permitting under the Trump Administration, the Bureau of Land Management releases a Record of Decision approving the Thacker Pass mine less than a year after beginning the Environmental Impact Statement process. On the same day, Max Wilbert and Will Falk established the Protect Thacker Pass camp.
February 11, 2021 — Local rancher Edward Bartell files a lawsuit (Case No. 3:21-cv-00080-MMD-CLB) in U.S. District Court alleging the proposed mine violates the Endangered Species Act by harming Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, and would cause irreparable harm to springs, wet meadows, and water tables.
February 26, 2021 — Four environmental organizations (Basin and Range Watch, Great Basin Resource Watch, Wildlands Defense, and Western Watersheds Project) file another lawsuit (Case No. 3:21-cv-00103-MMD-CLB) in U.S. District Court, alleging that BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act, Federal Land Policy Management Act, and other laws in permitting the Thacker Pass mine.
June 24, 2021 — The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the oldest and largest national organization of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments, calls on the Department of the Interior to rescind the permits for the Thacker Pass project.
Spring and Summer 2021 — Rallies, protests, and prayer runs take place in Orovada, Winnemucca, Reno, Carson City, and at Thacker Pass. More than 100 mine opponents gather at Thacker Pass to commemorate the 156-year anniversary of a September 12, 1865 massacre of at least 31 Northern Paiute men, women, and children committed by the 1st Nevada Cavalry. Thousands of people visit the site.
July 19, 2021 — The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu (People of Red Mountain) files a successful motion to intervene in Federal District Court (Case No. 3:21-cv-00080-MMD-CLB) alleging that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) in permitting the planned lithium mine.
August 2, 2021 — Burns Paiute Tribe files a motion to intervene on the side of tribal plaintiffs (Case No. 3:21-cv-00080-MMD-CLB).
September 15, 2021 — Bureau of Land Management accuses Will Falk and Max Wilbert of trespass for providing bathrooms to native elders at Thacker Pass, fining them $49,890.13.
October 8, 2021 — Eighteen native elders from three regional tribes request a BLM permit for their ceremonial camp. The BLM does not respond.
November 29, 2021 — The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony files an amended complaint in federal court alleging major previously unknown violations of the law. In January, Judge Miranda Du rejects the amended complaint because she wants to make a final decision on the case within a few months (note that the case has now continued for another calendar year).
February 11th, 2022 — Winnemucca Indian Colony files a motion to intervene in the lawsuit on the side of plaintiffs, claiming that BLM’s contention that they consulted with the Tribe is completely false. Judge Du rejects this motion shortly afterwards with the same reasoning used above.
August 2022 — BLM “discovers” five new historic sites at Thacker Pass and for the first time acknowledges the September 12, 1865 massacre took place, but continues to reject tribal expertise.
September 2022 — Lithium Nevada Corporation begins digging up portions of Thacker Pass for “bulk sampling” despite consultation still being ongoing between the Bureau of Land Management and regional tribes over cultural sites.
October 2022 — Dozens of mining activists from four continents visit Thacker Pass as part of the Western Mining Action Network biennial conference.
Will Falk, Attorney for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and Summit Lake Paiute Tribe
Bethany Sam, Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Media Relations
Max Wilbert, Protect Thacker Pass
More than 50 indigenous and Afro-descendant representatives of the Black and Indigenous Liberation Movement (BILM) call on the States of the Americas to address climate change from a differentiated, non-discriminatory justice perspective that addresses historical reparations for the impacts of colonialism.(more…)